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Dublin: 6 °C Sunday 26 January, 2020

‘He's obviously going to be a miss for us, but we're all happy for him’

Stephen Kenny, Conor Masterson and Conor Coventry give their thoughts on Aaron Connolly’s promotion to the Ireland senior side.

Aaron Connolly has been capped multiple times at Ireland U21 level.
Aaron Connolly has been capped multiple times at Ireland U21 level.
Image: TGSPHOTO/Paul Dennis/INPHO

STEPHEN KENNY SAYS everyone in the Ireland U21 camp is delighted with the rise of Aaron Connolly to the senior team.

The Brighton youngster scored a spectacular brace on his full Premier League debut against Tottenham at the weekend, prompting Mick McCarthy to promote him from the U21s to the senior team.

And while the Galway native will be hoping to make an impact in the upcoming fixtures away to Georgia and Switzerland, it means he will miss out on the Ireland U21 side’s crucial upcoming qualifiers with Italy and Iceland.

“We’re all delighted for Aaron,” Kenny said at today’s press conference. “He came into the U21 team in the Toulon tournament and had a very positive impact, scoring early in the match against China in Toulon and playing against Mexico, Bahrain and Brazil.

“I know David Weir at Brighton came out to Toulon to watch Aaron and Jayson Molumby and he monitored all the matches, and I’m sure the reports back were very positive in relation to Aaron, and he’s gone from strength to strength, of course.

“He had very good games against Armenia and Sweden, and scoring twice against Tottenham on Saturday was a big step for him.

“We want to have our strongest players available at U21 level to try to compete with the likes of Italy, who have got tremendous resources and a great panel of players to pick from, but at the same time, we’re delighted to see players go and become senior internationals.

“That’s the overall objective, so we’re delighted really.

“The way Brighton were set up [on Saturday] really suited him. He’s a confident player and he’s got versatility — coming in from the left for his second goal was a trademark goal for him.

“He has good instincts in the box and good movement in the box, and he’s very sharp to score goals in and round the box, so he can score different types of goals.”

But was the selfish part of Kenny, who realises the presence of Connolly against Italy and Iceland would boost his side, dreading a call from McCarthy?

No, I wasn’t dreading it. We were in contact and it wasn’t a shock by any stretch of the imagination.

“He’s been playing really well, he’s lighting up the matches he’s come into for the international team and at club level, and he took his goals brilliantly on Saturday, so he deserves his call-up and we sincerely wish him well.

“It’s been a while [since an attacking youngster has come through for Ireland]. There’s been a big gap with really young players coming into the international team.

“There is a lot of very good work being done at international level by the FAI at U15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 level. All the respective coaches have really played their part and I think we’re seeing the culmination of that with a lot of players moving up quickly to the U21s and getting an opportunity.

“The next step is to become senior internationals for them all.”

In addition, for Ireland, Connolly has mainly been operating on the left-hand side of an attacking trio. Yet for Brighton at the weekend, he occupied a more central striker role. Where does Kenny believe his long-term future lies?

“Well, it’s great to be able to do both, isn’t it? I think he himself has spent most of his life playing centre-forward, and that’s where he views his position.

Obviously, he’s played on the left wing or the left side of our attack, so it’s good to have that flexibility and versatility, which I’m sure will help in his club career and international career.

“Brighton played with two strikers last week against Spurs — it’s not always easy to do that at international level, and I think the fact that he can do either or is brilliant.”

The Dubliner also did not rule out a return to the U21 set-up for Connolly, who is still only 19, at some point in the future.

“I really don’t know. You can never predict the future, but we certainly wish him well for the next two games with the senior team in Georgia and Switzerland.”

Ireland U21 players Conor Masterson and Conor Coventry echoed Kenny’s praise of Connolly.

“Aaron’s done brilliant,” QPR youngster Masterson said. “He’s obviously going to be a miss for us, but we’re all happy for him. He deserves it with how well he’s played for Brighton and Ireland. Congrats to him.

And I don’t see why any of us on this team with the amount of talent we have [can’t do the same]. So if we really believe in each other, in ourselves, the way we’re going at the moment, why not?”

“I’ve played with Aaron since he was 16, I know him well,” Coventry added. “I know the talent he has. I’m just delighted for him. Of course, it shows the rest of us that if we work hard, we can get to where we want to go to and we can make it.

Eoin Toolan and Murray Kinsella join Gavan Casey to give an in-depth breakdown of where Ireland’s play stacks up against the contenders in Japan, and look into why New Zealand and England are primed for World Cup success.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Paul Fennessy

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